More than five years ago, I quit smoking. It was hard. Really, really, really hard. My friend Bob, a recovering alcoholic with a lot of years sober, gave me his nine-year chip. That was the talisman that got me through — whenever I HAD to have a cigarette, I clutched it like it was the lighter I used to carry. I love a sobriety chip in that you can squeeze it as hard as you can, and you can’t bend it, can’t break it, and then your fingers smell like quarters afterward.
I kept it on my person for a solid year, either around my neck or in my pocket. When I went to Italy by myself later that year, it really WAS the only thing that kept me from smoking. I mean, who would have known? Surrounded by smokers, in a different country, NO ONE would have known. But I would have had to go home and I wouldn’t have been able to lie to Bob. Probably could have lied to anyone else, but not to him. He would have known.
Bob died on Monday as a result of complications after surgery. He leaves behind a wife and two grown kids. I have never, ever, ever known a family closer than they were. He almost lost his family to drinking, and realized at the last minute that to keep them we would have to quit. He did, and it worked. The love that poured out of that family was something incredible to witness.
He was the funniest man I’ve ever met. He was Robin Williams funny with better timing. He was short and round, but got skinnier as the health problems increased. I thought he was an asshole when I first met him, almost nine years ago. He talked about his boy and called him The Beast, which I thought was cruel. It took me six months to realize that he actually loved the kid more than he loved anything else, except maybe his daughter and his wife.
He was the only person I took advice from. Pretty much, if he said to do it, I did it. When I was debating taking the job I have now, the job that I love, he told me I should do it, that I was changing in my old job, becoming bitter and jaded, and that I had to get out while I still could. I packed my bags and went.
He was talky as a jaybird. He never, ever shut up, and you never wanted him to. I’d tell him something, and that would set him off on a thought, three stories, and five jokes, and I’d learn as much as going to church. He WAS church. Church of Bob.
He came to our wedding, even though he didn’t go to parties with alcohol for the most part. He stayed long enough to give me his blessing and ten hugs. I think I only saw him two or three times after that, in this last very busy year. I’m trying not to kick myself too hard in the ass for that. It’s hard, though.
The funeral is in two hours, and I don’t want to go. I’m going to see a lot of people I don’t care to see, and worse, a lot of people that I know Bob disliked, people that treated him so badly that he retired in despair from the job he loved. A year ago. At least he retired. It’s a blessing, when I think about it. At least he got a year off the job with his family. And those people who forced him out will be there crying, and holding on to each other, and I’ll be there wearing my chip necklace, and trying not to hate them too much. And I’ll probably hug people and smile and chit-chat, and the ONLY reason I’m going is to look into Bob’s wife eyes, just for a second. To smile at his daughter. To hug the cop that he adopted as son. I know Bob doesn’t give a shit whether I go or not, he loved me, and I loved him, and the last time I saw him we told each other. We always told each other. But I want my presence there, my body to be standing with the hundreds and hundreds of people who will celebrate this incredible man’s life today.
The church will be full, most in uniform. I’m going from work, so I’ll be in uniform. And I’m dreading the bagpipes more than anything in this world.
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